OXON HILL, Md. Sarah Palin shouldn't mount a presidential run anytime soon, but she definitely belongs on the roster of future leaders speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, convention-goers told CBS News.
The former Alaska governor - who since being tapped to be the Republicans' 2008 vice presidential nominee has made a career of her electric, if gaffe-prone, grassroots speaking style - is slated to address the conference at noon today, capping off three days of events featuring leaders emblematic of the theme: "America's Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives."
It's a somewhat unlikely appearance for Palin, whose light in the Republican Party seemed to finally be dimming last fall when she spent the first night of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., serving baked beans at an Arizona barbecue dive. Then in January, she parted ways with Fox News, the last remaining window - with the cancellation of her TLC reality show - from her Wasilla, Alaska home to the public.
But Palin's involvement in a conference where principles align much more closely with the tea party wing of conservatism than that of the so-called "establishment" members of the Republican Party isn't so far-fetched, argued some attendees.
"Her brand is not as popular anymore," conceded Tufts University student Jacqueline Quander, who calls herself an independent. "But people love her."
Though a series of particularly damning media interviews during the 2008 campaign earned Palin a reputation for being unversed on policy issues, it's her ability to relate to average Americans, Quander said, that sustains her relevance.
"I like Sarah Palin - I don't think she's very substantive... but I like the way she talks," she said. "A lot of people are undereducated and they don't even read past what people say. If they feel something when you talk, that's pretty much it, and they're gonna vote for you anyways."
Penn State student Marty Heckman agreed that thanks to Palin's penchant for controversial statements, like insinuating President Obama "pals around" with domestic terrorists, "public-wise, she's not really appealing to people." But, he added, there remains a place for her not only at CPAC, but in the movement: "She has a voice, and she does have good things to say," he said.
"Honestly I have absolutely no idea where she necessarily fits in at this point," University of Texas, San Antonio student Ian Jacobson said of Palin. "I think she's got some fantastic ideas. ...I really hope that she's able to do more with the party, and able to find her voice again, and bring some ideas to the front that other members of the party have trouble communicating."
Hannah Bresson of La Crosse, Wis., said Palin deserves a generous share of credit for the tea party's longevity, and that her "wonderful work" has earned her a place at the annual conservative congregation.
So should Palin, who for three years teased media outlets about a possible presidential run in 2012, consider throwing her hat into the ring in 2016?
"Oh, absolutely not, no," Quander said. "She should not run again. She doesn't have the credentials to run. You can't go through half your term as governor to leave for a TV show and a speaking spot, and then come back again. That's absolutely ridiculous."
Timmy Finn said that while Palin is "young and she has a lot of energy and she can bring out the younger vote," he thinks her future lies in continuing to advance the tea party's agenda, off the campaign stage.
Heckman said any bid for political office Palin might seek promises to be "a little rocky," and predicted that she wouldn't "be able to make it." But, he added, "I definitely like her views. Definitely."
Should she decide to run, though, the door's not sealed shut, one conference attendee said, musing a scenario that nods to one of his home-state members of Congress, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who ran unsuccessfully in 2012 and was oft compared to Palin.
"I think there's potential, given her name and how recognizable it is," Andy Brown, from White Bear Lake, Minn., said of a Palin run. "A [Michele] Bachmann/Palin presidency - that'd be awesome."